1998 Bank of America robbery
In 1998, struggling mobster Ralph Guarino decided to rob the World Trade Center's Bank of America. He recruited a friend named Salvatore Calciano, who had worked at the World Trade Center (WTC) for 20 years.
Salvatore explained to Guarino that following the 1993 World Trade Center bombing, there was camera surveillance of almost everywhere inside the World Trade Centers, inside garages and even in elevators. Also, all employees had to wear ID tags when operating within the building. This obviously posed a problem, after a conversation between Salvatore and Guarino, the persuasive Guarino cajoled Salvatore into handing over an ID badge only issued to trusted employees, such as himself.
Sal informed Guarino that at a specific time a Brinks van arrived to deliver money in U.S. and foreign currencies from Bank of America's many branches and was sent, by elevator, to the 11th floor of the first tower of the WTC. Guarino realised the potential this robbery had, financially. Guarino and his brothers had been in and out of prison for petty thefts, and truck hijacking.
The plan was based on the fact that, at 8.30 a.m., a Brinks truck would arrive in the WTC garage and guards would place the bags of money onto a stainless-steel rolling cart. Anywhere from eight to ten bags would be delivered, but that was fairly irrelevant because a single one of the bags would be enough to satisfy Guarino and Salvatore's monetary needs.
Guarino decided that only two of the three robbers would need guns because the employees taking the rolling cart to the 11th floor wouldn't be carrying guns. All three robbers would need fake IDs, two guns and some duffel bags, as well as the standard ski-masks.
The plan was that the men would wait for the elevator to arrive at around 8.30 a.m. and then put on their ski-masks and get into the elevator before anyone could leave, then pull out their guns and get the bags of money loaded into their duffel bags, tie up the staff and use the elevator to reach the top floor and then walk out, holding their heads away from the numerous cameras.
The three men selected were known for their criminal prowess and experience. Richie Gillette was from Windsor Terrace, Brooklyn. He was 39 years-old and about 6 feet tall. He had a 12 page long arrest sheet for drug possession and bribery, amongst other offenses. Gillette had not held down a steady job since 1996 and had a 17 year-old son to support as well as his drug habit.
Gillette selected two of his friends, Melvin Folk and Mike Reed. Folk was a 44 year-old alcoholic; he had drug and alcohol problems, and he, his wife, and son had been homeless for months since their house in Queens burned down.
Reed was a 34 year-old heroin abuser, whose parents had died of heroin overdoses when he was 8; his Grandmother raised him. In the Bishop Boardman Apartments in Windsor Terrace, Brooklyn, he had been found to be thieving from elderly residents and was forced to leave. Just before the robbery, he had stolen a homeless man's food stamps.
The reason Guarino picked such undesirables was that he could encourage them to believe that if ever they informed on him or anyone else, or failed, they could be murdered by the Mafia. Guarino was persuasive and they truly believed that he was a high-ranking mobster.
On Wednesday, January 14, 1998 a Brinks van pulled into the WTC garage, two employees stayed in the van, while the others unloaded the bags of money. It was in U.S., Italian, Japanese and French currency. The two guards were, however, carrying guns and were joined by some cleaners as they went up in the elevator to the 11th floor.
Simultaneously the three thieves were entering the WTC in winter wear, but only Gillette had the presence of mind to wear a hooded top, to conceal his identity to the many cameras. The other two, Reed and Folk, were in attire from which they could easily be identified. Each of the men carried a duffel bag, as the plan included two handguns, Reed and Folk's contained pistols, while Gillette's contained handcuffs.
The three men entered a passenger elevator, they got off at 8.28 a.m. and then pulled on their ski masks. Precisely 1 minute later the elevator, containing the money, arrived on the 11th floor. The two guards began to push out the cart containing money when they looked up and saw two men carrying guns. A cleaner began praying and screaming, Gillette handcuffed the employees. As Gillette was keeping the employees under control Folk and Reed pulled out box-cutters and slashed away at the bags containing money.
After 8 minutes in the elevator they pressed the button to ascend to the 22nd floor, leaving the shocked victims tied up. They removed their ski masks and put away their guns.
At around 8.45 a.m., as the three thieves left through the WTC's revolving doors, Guarino watched from a car parked across the street.
Not long after the robbery had taken place the media began covering the story and giving descriptions and broadcasting and printing images of the robbers. This was, of course, a problem for Guarino.
Soon the FBI had Melvin Folk in custody, he was not sure if Folk knew his surname, but he would have known Gillette's and if Gillette was apprehended he could choose to portray Guarino as the mastermind and lighten his own sentence.
The fault was that Folk and Reed had returned to their old neighborhoods and as soon as a $26,000 reward for catching the thieves became available people were identifying Reed with vigor. He was arrested, after identification by a retired NYPD detective who knew him, at a friend's house, on 20th Street, Brooklyn.
Soon afterward Gillette was traveling on an Amtrak train and was observed by another passenger as behaving strangely. He was chain-smoking and holding lots of cash, so the concerned passenger informed Amtrak security. As the train pulled into Albuquerque, New Mexico he was approached by security and asked a few questions. He was sporting a Green Bay Packers jacket with the name George Grillo attached, he told the agent that he was from New York and was going to San Bernardino, he consented to a dog search of his property and cabin. Inside his duffel bag Amtrak Agent John Salzar discovered a lot of money and an ID with the name Richard Gillette. Gillette failed to explain the money and as such it was confiscated. Agent Salzar didn't arrest Gillette immediately and returned to his radio car and searched under the name Richard Gillette on the database of criminals, it revealed that he was wanted by the FBI for questioning. Agent Salzar returned to Gillette's cabin, only to find that he had disappeared in his absence.
In Albuquerque a street-by-street search was conducted, a waitress pointed him out in a bar called Famous Sam's, but he ran outside, via a back door. The FBI tracked him to a nearby hotel and he was arrested at approximately 8.30 p.m. January 16, 1998, for participating in the Bank of America robbery.
Although the FBI had the three robbers in custody, they concluded that the men didn't have the intelligence or initiative to pull off such a heist and began searching for a culprit. This was a serious dilemma for Guarino; he knew that Gillette was liable to inform on him, because he was being detained in a New Mexico jail cell.
Guarino met with his insider, Salvatore, and they had a problem aside from the three robbers, Salvatore had spent money in anticipation of receiving his payment, amounting to $50,000 on home improvements. He had purchased these improvements on credit card and his bills were coming, so he needed the money to pay off his credit card bills. Guarino had similar problems, he owed a violent member of New York's Gambino crime family $40,000. As well as the Gambino, named 'Joey Smash', mobsters all over New York were looking for ways to get hold of some of Guarino's money.
Guarino had some hope, though; a man named Jimmy Gallo offered to launder the foreign currency and return it to Guarino in fully cleansed, untraceable U.S. dollars, but he was charging 50% of the amount laundered. Guarino refused.
Richie Gillette was becoming a serious problem for Guarino; Gillette's cousin was ringing up Guarino and asking for money. Guarino thought that if he gave Gillette some money it might stop him from informing, but Guarino thought he might inform anyhow and then the money would have been wasted.
Before Guarino could figure out what to do he was at home, with his wife, at his Staten Island home, when two Federal Agents came and took him to the FBI HQ in New York.
Following his arrest, Guarino agreed to become an FBI informant on the DeCavalcante mafia family.
- Smith, Greg B. (2003). Made Men: The True Rise-and-Fall Story of a New Jersey Mob Family. Berkley Books. ISBN 0-425-18551-6.